“And what is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth” – Kahlil Green
Textiles bond us to our families, friends and communities in varying ways, in some cultures they believe that they can tie us to the spirit of our ancestors.
The Navajo make ties on their looms and the Toraja of Indonesia weave ceremonial garments with patterns believed to connect them with their ancestors.
Mothers in Chinese minority cultures spend a huge amount of time making cloth carriers for their babies even though they will only use them for a short time. They believe that the carrier is symbolic of the tie betwen mother and child.
The textile connection with our ancestors may be metaphoric such as “to be warp and weft” knowing ones lineage or place in the family, warp being parental descent and weft being children.
A common English phrase “cut from the same cloth” is used in relation to family heritage.
Families prepare for the birth of a baby by gathering a layette. This was very time consuming before the mass production of clothing.
The Workman’s Guide in 1838 listed a baby’s layette
12 – 18 shirts
4 – 6 dozen nappies (diapers)
4 – 6 bed gowns
4 – 6 robes
2 – 3 flannel shawls
1 cloak or pelisse
2 – 4 flannel bands
3 – 6 day caps
3 -4 night flannels
4 – 8 socks
4 – 6 petticoats
2 – 3 flannel caps
6 – 12 pinnafores
3 – 4 day flannels
1 – 2 flannel cloak
A sea captain’s wife who kept a diary in 1855 recorded sewing almost daily on a layette from June for her baby born on December 1st.
Today when most items are bought a mother or grandmother will still make a special blanket, quilt or shawl.
Hawaiians view these as family treasures that hold the spirit and love of the maker.
Cloth is portable and easily stored so it is easy to pass down the generations. Americian and Victorian scrap quilt traditons are world renowned.
Soldiers in World War I and II often sent home handkerchiefs or pillow covers to their wives or mothers because they could anticipate those items in use. A handkerchief sent to a lover could be worn close to her body. This was so popular in World War I that the French supplied the troops with textile items marked with “Souvenir of the Great War” or “To My Dear Sweetheart”.
Handkerchiefs have long be used as love tokens or betrothal gifts.
From the beginning of civilisation textiles have played a significant role in bringing communities together as they do today as you read this blog.
Pincushions in general have been available since at least the 17th century, and were once of much greater importance sartorially than they are now because pins were used to fasten garments, as well as for needlework and lace-making. Layette pincushions like this one were once customary presents to a new mother, and were most popular between about 1770 and 1890. It was best to give them after the baby arrived, as there was a superstitious belief that they could increase the pain felt by the mother during birth: ‘For every pin a pain’ and ‘More pins, more pain’ were two of the traditional sayings. And at a time when many problems could arise during childbirth, some felt that it was taking too much for granted to give birth presents before the baby had arrived.
Layette pincushions were in some ways the equivalent of the birth congratulation cards we now send, as the pins were often arranged to show good wishes, sometimes in verse. Shorter messages such as ‘Welcome Sweet Babe’ or ‘Welcome Little Stranger’ (a coy way of referring to an unborn or newborn baby) were more typical. It took considerable skill to form the words and motifs in pins, and mistakes could damage the fabric. On some later examples it is possible to see a way of doing this more easily. The words and decoration were drawn in pencil on the surface of the fabric first, something which would be invisible after the pins were stuck in. And this method was almost foolproof after 1878, because closed pins became available, and the pincushions were almost purely decorative and commemorative.
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